The long and winding road towards a plastic free Nagaland

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There was much euphoria on 5th June 2018- World Environment Day, when the Chief Minister of Nagaland, declared that Nagaland would be “Plastic Free”, by December 2018. There was also much expectation, anticipation and hope that finally the Government was waking up to this “Modern Day Threat” which is bearing down or more appropriately “piling” on us, with all its negativity and life threatening consequences .
Plastic pollution in the last 40 years has become a global concern and many countries and nations are taking steps to combat this menace through efforts to reduce plastic consumption by the consumers. These efforts are primarily through imposing bans on all one time use plastic items, such as the plastic bags and Styrofoam cutleries, plates and cups etc. Many of these efforts had been the result of public pressures and movements which had forced the concerned authorities to impose restrictions on single use plastics.
The Government of Nagaland through a Notification of 29th November 2018, had banned all single used plastic products with effect from 1st December 2018. This was a much awaited welcome action from the Government since its June 5th 2018 declaration. The notification was also a timely announcement in view of the Hornbill Festival being showcased as a Plastic Free event for the last three consecutive years .
To what extend this Notification of the Government will effectively take off is yet to be seen. This would require strict enforcement, which unfortunately is the weakest link in the government system. Enforcing is going to be even harder since the ban allows the use of 50 microns and above plastic items, especially the bags. Many duplicate plastic bags claiming to be 50 microns plus will still be around, and it will be difficult to identify or differentiate. The 50 plus microns plastic are suppose to be more expensive than the lesser microns, they are to be thicker to prevent them from flying around in the air and also they can be shredded for recycling. Moreover as per the Solid Waste management (SWM)Rules 2016 of GOI the manufacturers of these plastic bags are to be registered with the Pollution Control Board of a state, after depositing the required tax. Nagaland is yet of to implement such Rules. In addition we do not have an effective recycling mechanisms of segregation, collection, transportation and recycling outlets. So the “throw away culture” will still persist and garbage pile-up and pollution may continue.
In such a situation the second best option would be to impose a cess or fine on all consumers of plastic bags. This would leave the consumers the option to either carry their own re-useable bags or pay for the plastic bags. This has been successful in many places and have slowly reduced plastic pollution, ultimately leading to a complete ban. It may be cumbersome initially, but human adaptability and ingenuity should not be undermined.
With the ban in Styrofoam dining items , the emergence of “biodegradable” options will appear. However here too to limit leakage and damage to environment the presence of a sound waste management systems are as relevant for the so called bio-degradable options as for fossil fuel based plastics. Often bio-degradable products break down completely only if exposed to prolonged high temperature above 50 degree Celsius. Such conditions are met in incineration plants , but very rarely in the environment. Therefore even bio-plastics derived from renewable source such as corn starch, cassava roots or sugarcane etc. do not automatically degrade in the natural environment. In Nagaland such incinerators are nonexistent , and the throw away culture will continue for these so called biodegradable items too. So the only option would be to go back to washable /re-useable items, or products made of leaves etc. such as the areca.
The manufacturers/makers of the alternative bags to plastic bags should also ensure that the “alternatives are not plastic products that look like cloth”. On 1st December 2018, morning, Kohima was greeted with the free distribution of bags by the Government, which were made of non woven Poly Proplylene, which is essentially plastic and comes under the plastic bag bans. These bags were also distributed at Kisama, a “plastic free zone”, and was a big damper to some stalls that were promoting paper bags and cloth bags. Hopefully this will be a one time venture of the Government and as stated in its Notification of 29th November, youths will be encouraged to take up these “green enterprises” in promoting genuine biodegradable bags, of cotton, jute or any other natural products.
L. H. Thangi Mannen

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